Went to my first college football game in about 20 years Saturday afternoon…and it pretty much confirmed for me that I’m not cut out for tailgating.
Not that I didn’t enjoy the company of my brother…or getting the chance to meet some of his Sig-Ep friends. In fact, their enthusiasm for Tiger football and ol’ Mizzou was something to behold. And the game was enjoyable enough, with the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State scoring often enough to keep the contest interesting.
Rather, I think it was the sheer spectacle of the event that made me a tad uneasy. Rituals abounded in the pregame hours—not only in my brother’s small entourage, but everywhere you looked across campus and in the parking lots surrounding Faurot Field.
And when the game began, more rituals still: the crowd chanting in unison; cheerleaders, marching bands and the Golden Girls, to name a few. Each time the Tigers scored, out came Big Mo, a bass drum big enough to require four handlers—standing tall in the heat of the late-August afternoon, as if to prove bigger is not always better.
As the game wore on, I realized I was witnessing was something more than an isolated contest of skill-and-will, played out between bands of athletically gifted twenty-somethings. I was seeing a curiously American tradition unfold more or less in real time: communal culture (such as it is) being embraced across several generations of fans. And it made me wonder: How difficult would it be to gather a group one-tenth the size to worship, or celebrate a liturgy?
The games are fun, sure: And so it’s easy to get swept up in the pomp and tradition of big-time college football. It’s also easy to lose sight of just how much time and energy we pour into its pursuit. There are only so many hours in a weekend, after all—and eventually something’s gonna have to give.
Which made it all the more interesting, I thought, to hear the passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans that was proclaimed at Mass yesterday—less than 24 hours after the all-consuming spectacle I witnessed in mid-Missouri:
‘Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.’ (Romans 12:2)
No doubt, there’s a bit of heaven to be found in a football game and the colorful game-day traditions that surround it. Still, we’d do well to take a cue from Saint Paul — and remind ourselves that tailgating will never satisfy the deepest longings of our souls.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.